Category Archives: Writing

A Home Remedy For the Grammer Police

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NSFW. Contains language about language.

*Yes, I know how to spell ‘grammar,’ but that’s the point.

 

The world is a small place sometimes. It’s hard to gauge where my ideas might reach. In places where people don’t know me, my ideas seem plausible. In others, people point to what I’ve written as a short-hand to get their point across. They write, “This,” with a link, or “This reminds me of you.” To be fair, many people also tell me I’m a moron, but with a lesser frequency that I would have otherwise expected to be the case.

When I write about people having the freedom to take back their own languages and use and abuse them as they see fit, most of the response is overwhelmingly positive. There is indeed a time and place for exacting language – and that time and place is normally one which doesn’t require our presence, much less enthusiasm, for it. The responsibility for language’s needless complexity does not fall upon the average user.

On one of my alter-ego projects, someone wrote me. She was irritated at a few of her well-meaning and passive-aggressive friends and family, some of whom apparently rejoice in being grammar police. She told me that several of her friends and family were afraid to post anything and sometimes say anything, anticipating the overzealous criticism. She had tried ignoring them, politely asking them to stop and finally, in a last-ditch effort, she started lashing out at them. She saw some of my craziness on someone’s blog and decided to offer me a chance to weigh in.

My appeals to tell those who think English is a fixed target should go jump in a frozen lake struck a chord with her. She said she had never thought of Standard English as a formal and shared means to learn a dialect that no one learned at home – or that spoken language drives the language no matter how many cries of anguish we hear from those invested in “correct English.”

“I need a way to get my point across, even with a sledgehammer, if necessary. What do you recommend?” she wrote.

“Well, if you’re all adults, I recommend avoiding behavior which invites more contempt. They’re not going to change, that much is obvious. It’s not a ‘you’ issue, not really. They need to gain esteem by policing other people. You can’t fix them, so you need to focus their attention away from you.” So far, so good, as I wrote back.

“First, it’s important that you politely tell each person who has been a pain in your rear to please stop and that further trolling is unwelcome. Then, each time one of your friends, family, or acquaintances pulls their grammar nonsense, send them this,” I wrote:

<To the grammar police: You put the ‘dick’ in ‘dicktionary.’ Regards, Don’t Care >

 

I told her to write it every time someone pulled out their bag of tactics on her – after they ignored one more final polite request to please stop. If they responded with anger, write the same thing, over and over. If they tried to police her in person, I told her to say it out loud, even in awkward social situations. I pointed out that her social faux pas was no greater than theirs, that of policing other adults in trivial matters.

“If that doesn’t work, let me know.” I wished her well and told her to follow through every time her hackles went up. I reminded her that it was senseless for her to get upset and to instead transfer that irritation back those being jerks. I warned that it would take time. She told me that a few of her friends and family had been torturing her for years and that a few weeks of concerted effort would be better than living the rest of her life under the thumb of a bunch of control freaks.

Several days later, she wrote me and told me that at first it really bothered her to be discourteous. After a few times, though, she got invested in the reaction. She had one last hold-out, though, a family member who tended to lash out about any topic, whether it be politics, religion, grammar, or how to fold towels in the guest bathroom.

I asked her to send me the name of the family member so that I could get a picture from their social media. After she did so, I told her to check her email and follow the instructions and to only follow them if the person torturing her didn’t heed one last polite request to please stop bothering her.

Over a week later, she wrote back, to tell me that it had worked beyond belief.

Her family member had become irate and sent an email and social media messenger blast to all their mutual friends and family, accusing her of lashing out without reason. Her family member didn’t stop to realize that it provided the victim with a list of everyone affected. She wrote back to all of them, asking them to let her know if they were interested in knowing the real story. Most did and after reading her explanation were completely on board. Almost all agreed that it would be better for everyone to ignore what they perceived as errors – and to certainly not condone those who continued to be jerks after politely being asked to step away or to bother someone else who had no objection.

The picture attached to this post is what she emailed, after begging and politely requesting relief at least a dozen times…

 

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P.S. It’s important that anyone reading this understand that at each stage I insist that the first course of action is to respond with politeness and courtesy, even if the person making your life a living hades is beyond redemption.

P.P.S. I didn’t invent the word ‘dicktionary.’

 

 

The Brown / Hat Conundrum

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The Brown / Hat Conundrum

As you comment to tell me that what I’ve said is stupid,
remember that you decided to waste a precious sliver of
your finite life to denigrate me or my opinion.
People angrily comment when they either recognize the
truth in a contrary opinion or they are insecure about
their own tenuous hold on the world. Lashing out at
another for expression is a self-accusation and an
acknowledgment that your beliefs don’t sustain scrutiny.

Lady Bird 1962, A Commentary

The internet is supposed to be inhabited by trolls. Many believe that Facebook is a place of mindless drivel. Longer posts involving reading are a waste of time, according to some people.

Recently, I wrote a story titled “Lady Bird 1962.” I didn’t write it for profit, perfection or pride. I have a list of several thousand thoughts, stories, and one-way deadends. Lady Bird flew around in my head until it became to be a real story in my own imagination.

A few of my friends read the story on my personal page.

Thousands of strangers read it when I posted it on my public Facebook page. Despite being seen by so many people, I didn’t get one negative comment or trollish snark. For those who shared it, I got to read how much the story meant to them personally, as if they were standing in the snow with Lady Bird, or looking at her through the prism of a windshield, decades ago.

This social media experiment we find ourselves in, the one which polarizes so many people, doesn’t have to be exclusively for public discourse. It can be, even if only infrequently, a means to create a connection to people.

Link to my public figure Facebook post…

Lady Bird

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Lady Bird, 1962

She had stood outside in the snow for several minutes, admiring the winter birds high above her. The Pennsylvania sky was as overcast and majestic as her secret mood. The alchemy inside her granted her both patience and anticipation, each uneasy with the other. The infrequent passersby would note her demure presence as she shifted her hands inside her coat pockets. Many would take a second lingering glance, as something in her eyes and face seemed exotically out of place in the slush and roadside snow.

I alone dared to pull over and shut off the engine to my car. Inside it, I remained for a long moment, momentarily unsure of myself and caught off guard by the uncertainty. I smashed my cigarette out in the console ashtray, reached for my camera and exited the vehicle. The wind ran up the legs of my pants, causing me to shiver and clutch one side of my coat hastily.

Without preamble, I swallowed my fear and I crossed the slushy street and asked, “Can I take your picture?” My voice came out like a high-pitched plea. She laughed.

“Of course, although I don’t know why you would want to.” She laughed again. She motioned for me to come closer.

Once I reached her side, she pointed up and I followed the arc of her arm as she raised it.

“Those birds, they only seem to come around for 2 or 3 days a year. If they land nearby, they’ll talk to us in their own way. And if you throw them bread, they will swoop past you close enough to touch, if you were so inclined.” Her voice took on a lilting cadence as she spoke as if she were reading her own diary in the late hours of the night.

I watched the birds as I stood beside her. From her pocket, she removed a carefully-folded paper sack. She opened it and reached inside, then scattered pieces of dark bread in the snow.

“Wait,” she whispered, her head still pointed toward the sky.

She threw another handful, higher in the air, and the pieces arced and fell.

The birds, high above us, had taken notice and began to point their bodies downward. Within seconds, a dozen birds were swirling around us, their wings making rhythmic noises as they approached. Each bird had a small swath of red on their necks as if to mark their squadron with a uniform insignia.

Almost in unison, the birds extended their talons and landed. They began poking rapidly at the rye bread pieces on the white snow. As the bread disappeared, the birds began clucking and squawking in staccato bursts. They sounded like old ladies, with voices ruined by clouds of cigarette smoke, each trying to shout down the others.

As the woman tossed more bread pieces on the ground, the birds would take turns grabbing a piece as the others continued their squawking.  Their collective noises sounded like out of tune violins but I could discern the haunting melody of it nonetheless.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” She asked me.

I nodded yes as I listened and watched. I was hesitant to speak, lest the lingering magic of the moment notice me observing it.

With no more bread in her pockets, she put her hands back inside them and waited. The birds restlessly paced, their squawks becoming a disharmonious crescendo. They lifted off but instead of taking to the sky, they looped around us two or three times as they rose. After reaching 30 or 40 feet, their squawks ceased, leaving an exquisite absence of sound. The woman laughed again, a laugh tinged with delight, and it reminded me of a row of shattered icicles falling from an early morning roof.

I stepped away from the woman, raised my camera, and pointed it at her. She looked away from the sky for a moment and smiled at me. I pressed the shutter button and felt the moment already begin to fade away, like watching an old friend sitting in the back of his parent’s car, waving as he pulled away.

As I lowered the camera, something must have registered in my face, as she ran the few step between us and hugged me, one filled with warmth.

I got back into my car, once again inside the familiar and known. As I started the car, I looked back one last time, to see her there, faced turned upward in silent joy as she watched her birds flying high.

I’ve never shared this picture with anyone before today, all these years later.

I’ve witnessed the width and breadth of this fascinating world. Nothing, however, lingers in my heart like the stolen moment I shared with Lady Bird. I do not know who she is or anything particular to her story but I do know that sometimes if we dare, the most common thing can shatter itself to reveal the wondrous.

Those birds are still up there, flying high, waiting for us all, if we dare. Lady Bird might be just around the corner for you, too.

 

It’s Your Language – Use It With Abandon

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You don’t need my permission, of course. You certainly don’t need my approval, either. Likewise, you are entitled to roll your eyes in derision, mockery or contempt at anyone who corrects you for your punctuation or grammar in a text message. Unless your relationship is based on inequality, you should also expand this idea to include all private messages.

I’m not advocating total disregard for decorum – it’s not an invitation to use the ceiling fan to shave your back hair. Rather, my point is that anyone who takes the time to admonish you for informal text communication is a bigger nuisance than any perceived wrongdoing from sloppy language.

If the other person is chiding you good-naturedly, it doesn’t count as snobbery, so try to let those instances slide without a street duel. I’m not advocating that you be an ass to light-hearted cajoling or ridicule. What I am asking is that you take charge of your life and stop worrying about grammar and content when you are informally communicating. We didn’t vote on this concern – so ignore it.

It’s amazing how much of your life can be lived in this manner. Even a life perfectly lived will draw criticism, right down to the style of pants you wear or how you like to eat your french fries.

Those who relish correcting grammar can’t be stopped, so it’s best to adopt the position that they all suffer from the incurable disease of Grammar Tourette’s Syndrome, except their affliction stems from the mistaken idea that they are arbiters of grammar, spelling, and usage and this status compels them to lash out in self-appointed glee.

Sidenote: English doesn’t have a committee to decide usage or structure. It’s a fluid, evolving mass of ridiculous logic and rules. It belongs to all of us. Standard English is a myth we strive for without pausing to consider that it’s a moving target. Even if we understand the rules, they certainly don’t hold sway in our intimate private lives.

Life is short. Using tools for rapid, convenient communication should not be an ordeal or an exercise in English 101. Be as vigilant as you find it necessary to be and adjust accordingly. But if your blurbs to others are treated with a hostile eye, assume that the person complaining is a bit of an ass and go about your life as if his or her presence in no way determines how you’ll live. That part is most certainly true.

One of life’s greatest pleasures is knowing the rules and ignoring them. No matter how vigilant you are with language, you’re going to make mistakes. Even when you’ve followed all the rules, there will still be disagreement, even among the most educated and learned individuals. Language is not science, nor will it ever be. Since it’s always evolving, become a deliberate part of that process and reject all the components and obligations which don’t serve you.

Take a moment and really, really piss off a language purist. Write as you will and laugh when the sputtering objections commence. If they’ve taken the time to let you know how irritated they are by your lack of adherence to the ‘rules,’ you owe it to yourself to help them get over their unnatural affliction.

Get out your phone and text someone now. Pretend that you’re drunk and can’t spell any word longer than ‘eel.’ You’ll thank me for it.

K?

Your welcome

C U later.

Apostrophonies

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Apostrophonies: a word to describe those dedicated to the linguistic contortions of logic and denial to justify the continued existence of the apostrophe.

After years of watching the apostrophe debate ebb and flow, I’m voting that we eliminate it. Most of our communication occurs verbally and we’ve survived centuries without needing to wave our arms when an apostrophe is needed.

The grammar brigade can gnash their teeth in protest as they make the tired argument that tradition trumps utility or that our collective language will lose some of its elegance. It’s snobbery to decry nonstandard usage and it bemoans the history of every single change to our language.

Elimination of the apostrophe isn’t a capitulation to the myth of uneducated misuse or modern texting; it’s an overdue necessity. Our language has continuously evolved, and usage determines its structure. We have no arbiter of official usage; “Standard English” is a myth perpetuated by those whose livelihood depends on it, comprising a cabal of dusty minds looking backward.

To make matters worse, many people don’t realize we have a verb to describe the insertion of an apostrophe: apostrophize. Or ‘apostrophise,’ if you’re in the country in which our language was birthed.

One can make subtle arguments regarding those instances when an apostrophe MIGHT reduce vagueness, but if this is your argument, you can’t turn a blind eye toward the other 3 dozen ways in which English contains aberrant structures which inhibit clear understanding.

Contractions, plurals, plural possessives, apostrophes-of-omission, and all other usages have exceptions which don’t further the objective of language or increase its beauty.

Like it or not, we can literally change the language in any manner we see fit. We’ll either rid ourselves of the apostrophe or worsen its usage as people struggle against its ongoing and needless usage in our language.

The apostrophe should get its coat and make a graceful exit before we kick it in the seat of the pants.

Purists might miss it but I’m certain they’ll find another rallying cry of illogic to focus on. Those insisting on tradition always do.

Please remember that I love language but despise the focus on mechanics. Language should not be an obstacle to expression.

P.S. Remember that I’m not advocating for a free-for-all in regards to all rules, so please cook up a better point about what I am NOT saying.

Choose Wisely

 

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The internet is a huge, vast space, much like the world around us.

No matter your pace, you’ll never reach the end of it, explore all of its mysteries or be able to pause sufficiently to breathe it all in.

Your time is precious, as is your attention, energy, and focus.

If you value the seconds stealing past you, you’ll wonder why it is that so many of us fixate on that which does not embellish our lives with wonder, interest, or happiness.

I assume if you take a slice of your finite life and spend it writing something angry or derogatory, it’s unlikely that anything I say will minimize the pain or frustration you’re feeling with either the world or the ideas on display.

There’s insufficient data to help me discover whether you’re having a bad day, chose ill-advised words or truly meant the words or tone used.

Rather than acknowledge it or waste your time or mine, I’ll hide, ignore or delete your interaction and focus my time and self more acutely. I treat any page I manage as my living room – and people interacting in my living room know what the expectations probably are, in part because they know who I am.

Each of us has a fluctuating ability to tolerate craziness, coarseness, discourtesy, and mayhem; what triggers us one day may pass unnoticed the next. I know full well that no one in their right mind wants me in their living room all the time, especially if I forget that the internet is a trillion living rooms, each inhabited by different people and inclinations.

Because the internet is so complex, wondrous and vast, we should treat it like a tv with a trillion channels. Change channels if you’re offended or find yourself focusing on how much you dislike the channel you’re on.

There’s no conspiracy, just a reminder to spend your time on worthwhile interactions – on pages and posts which give you pleasure.

Sometimes I make errors in judgment, as the written word often fails to capture nuance and subtlety. I apologize if I err and misunderstand your intentions.

Life is shorter than you can imagine.

It’s always my hope that if I misspeak, misstep or err that you’ll pause in your condemnation long enough for me to realize my error or make amends. Sometimes though, even good people reach an impasse in which neither appreciates the conundrum of their disagreement.

Let’s both enjoy time in the vast wilderness of the internet.

We don’t all need to play on the monkey bars together but it’s advisable to find fun and peace somewhere on the vast playground of the internet.

There’s sun for us all here, if we choose it.

 

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(Just joking with the last picture…)

I Own My Story

It’s true that my memory isn’t perfect and sometimes I exaggerate to amplify a point. But the story is mine, outlining a world I created in my imagination in response to the people, places, things and thoughts around me.

If you going to visit it, please remember that if you want to play a good character, you can’t be an ass and expect a starring role. I’ll try to minimize your story arc if you’re misbehaving but no promises in this regard can be made or kept.

I’ve used variations of the above for several years, as people struggled against my right to express the content of my life, even if I sometimes made errors in its telling.

When I started walking frequently, I downloaded an insane number of TED talks and similarly-structured audio files. I was walking near one of my favorite spots listening to my second TED talk of the day when Anne Lamott’s segment started.

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

 

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This quote reverberated through my head. It conveyed almost exactly the sentiment I’d felt for years. It’s one thing to know something – and another when a bona fide voice of authority echoes your idea.

Now, I use Anne’s quote instead of my own original sentiment. Because I’m not the one who said these exact words, I can use them like a spear. Coming from someone who can be googled somehow grants the same idea some clout contrasted against my attempt.

So many people are reluctant to tell their stories. Some are worried they lack the ability to be honest and fair, while others are concerned that they lack the language skills to avoid being mocked. It’s a risk to tell a story, especially one which reveals a part of yourself to the world. It’s a risk not to, as well.

In my own world, I tend to be aware of not identifying everyone in my stories. It gives them the opportunity to continue on with their lives without my imperfect alterations. There are times, though, when I feel it necessary to describe people by name, relation or occupation. I hope it’s never out of malice but even I know that our minds behave in ways we don’t always recognize honestly.

I would hope that anyone reading this would welcome the chance to share their lives with those around them. Allowing people to experience our thoughts and lives is one of the only ways to experience a full life.

The stories are ours to share, for good, bad, or ugly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom of Discussion

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The truth is that I would love to be in a position to write freely about any topic in my heart and mind.

I know what you’re thinking: “You can can do that already.”

It’s not true, though.

Like so many others, I have a list of masters, each with a thumb pressed against my ability to speak freely.

More than luxury cars, a mansion, or the ability to travel the world, I’d like to be able to sit down and follow ideas to any destination.

The bizarre thing is that there are times when I am convinced that if I would just abandon all pretense and start writing this way without any guarantees that I probably would achieve independence.

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A Little Commentary About Social Media

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I’ve not posted in a few days because so many people who’ve never met me read my last post on my public figure page. ( My public-figure FB page….) It’s a separate FB page of mine, still using my real name. My personal FB page is at: My personal FB page…  I took the time to stop and consider every word shared with me, whether shared on social media or my own website. Instead of posting or writing, I took the time to ingest anything sent to me.

Every once in a while I write something, albeit inexpertly, which resonates with a wide swath of people. The post about “The Glass Castle” was one of those things which echoed and ricocheted. It drew very little attention on my personal FB page but it went far on the public-figure version of my FB. It is a strange thing to see total strangers react to my words and engage in a way that people who know me don’t. It led a few people to find other things I’ve written; many of them reacted with surprise at the sheer quantity of it. If they wrote, they told me that they were caught off guard by the mix of personal stories and weird humor.

None of them have gone beyond casually mentioning that my grammar is sometimes in need of a ruler across the knuckles. The internet’s usual trollish response was nowhere to be found. One person reminded me of something I wrote several years ago: “Write without the discoloration of perfectionism. Someone else can proofread and edit. You don’t need to know how to plumb your house in order to turn on the kitchen faucet and prepare a gourmet meal, do you?”

To anyone who has written, I’ve replied by including a request that they share a story of their lives, whether it is funny, serious, or unpolished. I explain to them that we have one of the best communication tools ever devised being wasted on resharing and repetition of what others produce. It’s my hope that most of them will think about what I’ve asked and use social media to tell the rest of us a story.

Several have sent me anecdotes and shared stories of their lives with me. To me, this is the essence of social media – and one which we tend to neglect. So many say they are displeased with social media, but rarely does anyone put in the effort to make it interesting and personal.

To anyone who shared, I consider it to be a gift, one of the most personal ones possible. If I can write anything which propels another person to take moments of their lives and share a little of theirs, I’ve achieved a measure of success. These types of exchanges erase almost all the animus of political and personal animosity people experience.

What total strangers continue to teach me is that it is difficult to know one’s own story in the way that others might recognize. I’m enthralled with the strangeness of social media reaching so far, through the almost impenetrable fog of the unfamiliar.

I’m still contemplating the fact that very few of my friends interacted with the post, while hundreds of strangers read what I wrote, and some then took the time to share their own stories. I got a glimpse of the power of words, even at the hands of a hack like myself.